You waken slowly in the early morning, the high-pitched warble of birdsong drifting lightly through the trees overhead. The sky is faintly brightening with the coming of dawn, and the natural world is gradually blossoming to life.
Around you there is no trace of human activity, no murmurs of voices, clanging of dishes, or whir of technology. All you hear is a deep stillness that comes from inside.
It’s just you, your tent, and your quest for adventure. You are backcountry.
Backcountry camping is a wilderness adventure where you push yourself to the limit, challenging yourself to go without the conveniences of modern life for a small slice of time, to remind yourself of how small you are and how beautiful the world can be.
If you haven’t been backcountry camping in the past there’s no time like the present and nowhere better to get started than here in Ontario’s Highlands. When first taking the leap to backcountry camping don’t jump in with both feet and plan for an epic 30-kilometre canoe trip with five portages – start small and build from there.
Make sure you have the right gear, and pack carefully. There’s nothing worse than hiking five kilometres only to realize you forgot a lighter. Most interior or backcountry campsites are outfitted with a picnic table, tent site, and pit privy, and you must pack in everything else you will need for your adventure.
Where to Camp
Whether you hike, cycle or paddle to these Ontario’s Highlands campsites your experience is guaranteed to be incredible.
This is the perfect spot to dip your toe into the proverbial backcountry waters. The Haliburton Highlands Water Trails sprawl across more than 28,000 hectares of rugged mixed forests and pristine lakes. Choose between two areas for your camping getaway – Frost Centre and Poker Lakes. Frost Centre Area has both boat-in sites and road access campsites along Sherborne Lake Access Road, and is ideal for two-to-three-day trips. Poker Lakes Area is backcountry only, and good for novice paddlers or families.
Access Points: Backcountry campers can park in designated campground parking areas.
Booking: Choose your campsite and make a reservations online or by phone at 1-888-668-7275.
The rugged beauty of the Canadian Shield is the picturesque setting for backcountry camping at Bon Echo. Canoe-in sites on Joeperry and Pearson Lakes are accessible from the parking area via a short portage and paddle, and you can rent a canoe right from the campground or from a neighbouring outfitter. (Bring your fishing rod; the lakes here are teeming with bass, pike, and trout) If you’d rather walk than paddle, you’ll find the spectacular views of rushing rapids and glacial formations will be worth the hike to an interior spot along the Abes and Essens hiking trail.
Use these parklands as your launchpad to explore the beauty of the area’s 12 pristine lakes peppered with 184 campsites. A small number of campsites here are accessible by car and the rest by water. The topography here combines the glacial landscape of the Canadian Shield with lush forests and deep lakes. This is where you want to go to find inner stillness and bask in the tranquil beauty of the scenery of Madawaska Highlands.
Access Points: Backcountry campers can park in designated campground lots.
Booking: Reservations are available online or by phone at 1-888-668-7275.
It doesn’t get any easier to go backcountry camping than at Murphys Point, and if you’re new to canoe-in camping, you’ll love how close the campsites are to the park – and with zero portages. Canoe-in sites are just a short paddle away on Big Rideau Lake and accessed through the main campground. These isolated island or waterfront oases will make you feel like you are alone in the wilderness.
Access Points: The canoe-in campsite can be accessed from the MacDonald Lake public water access, less than one-kilometre from base camp.
Booking: You can book a campsite through the Haliburton Forest website.
Worth a mention even though there’s only one backcountry site here! Haliburton Forest has a single canoe-in campsite for backcountry camping which is perfect for beginners because it’s only a short paddle in to the site, has good cell reception, and is close to amenities.
Like this story? Learn more about Ontario’s Highlands backcountry adventures: